During the holiday season, one movie classic is “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The story focuses on a man named George Bailey who, instead of going off to college and exploring the world, stays in town and helps a small savings and loan business stay alive. The town is small, and many of his peers—including his wife—have gone to college and left for at least a while, and he eventually makes a way for a reasonably happy life. In a boastful move, George’s uncle loses the money for a large deposit and the business is temporarily crippled. George, being the executive secretary, becomes suicidal when he realized that he could not solve the problem by himself, and an angel visits to show him what would happen if he had never been born. The story ends with the rallying of the town’s resources which save the savings and loan business, and George can see the effect his behavior has had towards others.
From a planning perspective, the fictional town of Bedford Falls is idyllic: many people walk everywhere and there is little need for a car. In a forward-thinking manner, George encourages immigrant growth and is the only institution that lends to such a population. Ironically—because this movie was first shown in 1946—there is a Black woman who manages to shore up enough resources to assist the savings and loan as well. Among George’s friend, there is an entrepreneur who made enough money to be able to lend the savings and loan three times what it lost in the deposit, demonstrating that community investment can actually save communities. Everyone is shown to be a valuable part of what makes Bedford Falls thrive, and the little city chugs along with the rest of the world.
Opposite of the savings and loan contingency, there was a character called Mr. Potter, who liked no one yet had absorbed the majority of wealth in the city—proving that history repeats itself without proper interaction. Mr. Potter tried to buy the savings and loan many times, which would have meant that the citizens would have nowhere else to go for funding, and he was notoriously corrupt. In an alternate reality in which George ceases to exist, the town fell into debauchery, which would not have been so bad, but the immigrant population was nonexistent, and the only businesses available had to make large quantities of money. The town was renamed to Pottersville, in honor of the miser who hated everyone in town.
What is obvious to those who grew up with this movie is that everyone in this movie is staunchly middle class. Except for Mr. Potter, no one was so wealthy that working was useless, and no one was so poor that life was impossible. The kinds of communities that people are currently seeking are those created by George Bailey: full of immigrants and people of color, walkable, with engaging small businesses that last past lifetimes. Planners with the right priorities can create more middle class beacons and help reduce inequities.